Crime in a Foreign Country, What Help Can You Expect?

Foreign travel can be a fun and exciting experience however; bad things can happen when you travel to a country with different: laws, legal system, and views on personal rights. While we all hope to avoid legal problems, here is some information if you are arrested or detained in a foreign country.

 Avoiding Arrest or Detention

    Of course, the smartest thing you can do is to avoid being arrested in a foreign country.  To that end, read up on the laws of the country or countries you expect to visit.  The Arab countries and Japan are examples of countries that have very strict regulation and enforcement laws regarding medications brought into their countries. Narcotic pain relievers that contain codeine or other opiates may be illegal in the country you are visiting.  Possession of those medications, even with a physician’s letter and prescription, may subject you to arrest.  Other drugs that may be prohibited are drugs to treat anxiety or depression and inhalers used to treat asthma.  When you travel with prescription medications, always keep them in the original containers and bring a letter from your physician describing the medical condition he is treating and the medications prescribed.  Investigate local drug laws before you go.

    Taking photographs is another thing that can get innocent travelers arrested or detained.  Some countries are particularly sensitive about what you can and cannot photograph.  As a general rule, avoid taking photos of police or military installations or personnel, industrial structures, including harbor, rail and airport facilities.  Also, avoid photographing border crossings and any scenes of civil unrest or public disturbances.  Think before you take the photo.  The wrong photograph may result in your arrest and confiscation of your camera.

    Tourists sometimes get arrested for selling personal items like clothing cameras, or jewelry.  Keep in mind that the Bill of Rights is part of the U.S. Constitution, but it does not protect you in a foreign country.

What to Do if You are Arrested Overseas

    The first thing to do when you are arrested is to ask to speak to the American Embassy or Consulate.  Keep asking over and over until your request is granted.  Legally, the Vienna convention gives you the right to speak to the American Embassy when arrested.  The foreign country should alert the Embassy about your arrest, but in some countries, authorities will contact the Embassy only if you demand notification.

    While you wait for contact from a consular officer, ask for a written statement of your rights.  If you are arrested in a non-English speaking country, ask for an interpreter.  Ask if you may make a phone call.  That request may or may not be granted.  If you are allowed a telephone call, reach out to a family member or friend you can trust to act sensibly.  Give that person your location and the name of your jail; your inmate number if one has been assigned; where you were arrested; who arrested you; where the alleged illegal conduct took place; and who was with you at the time who might act as a witness.  The purpose of this telephone call is to alert family members to your plight and inform them where you are so that they can get an attorney to represent you.  Do not say anything that might incriminate you.

    When your Embassy representative arrives, the consular officer should give you a list of English speaking attorneys in the country.  The Embassy will handle any issues of abuse or inhumane living conditions you may suffer.  It will serve as your point of contact with your family.  The Embassy cannot get you released from jail; attest to your innocence in court; provide legal advice or representation; serve as official translators or interpreters; or pay your legal or medical fees.

Be a savvy traveler.  Know the laws and customs of the countries you intend to visit.  Be wary of high crime areas or areas with known terrorist activities.  Find the telephone numbers for the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for each place you plan to visit and keep those numbers with you at all times.

“Dealing with emergencies while travelling.”, Accessed 22 Sept. 2016.

“Diplomacy and Diplomats: What is the difference between an embassy and a consulate.” Quora, 22 Feb. 2013 Accessed 22 Sept. 2016.

“Help for U.S. Citizens Victims of Crime Overseas.” U.S. Department of State- Bureau of Consular Affairs, Accessed 22 Sept. 2016.

“Lost or Stolen Passports Abroad.” U.S. Department of State- Bureau of Consular Affairs, Accessed 22 Sept. 2016.

“Traveler Beware: What are your Rights in a Foreign Country.” Boates Law Firm, Accessed 22 Sept. 2016.


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This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.